**Do you ever have posts that you're just not proud of? This is one of those to me and I really hesitated to post it because I'm not getting it to flow correctly. BUT...I've decided to click 'publish' in spite of that because I think that it has some good information that could help someone**
There are many squadrons that have an active KS program and lots of involvement from spouses, but, so far, I haven't been part of one of those. I hope that by the time we leave I'll be able to pass on a more robust program to the next KS. If you're part of a larger program, I'd love to hear your suggestions and hear how you get people involved!
(While reading this, please remember that I cannot give any specifics about our squadron. There is a reason that certain things seem vague. Give an unspecified number of cheers for OPSEC ;) And if you get that joke, you are a super nerd, like me.)
Let me start with this: The most important requirement for being a Key Spouse is a desire to help families. That's it! It's helpful if you have extra free time, or have been an Air Force spouse for awhile. But honestly? You'll go through training that will teach you the basics. And if you don't know the answer to something, you can usually find out with a couple of phone calls to base agencies. If you care about other Air Force families and want to help them, you've got a great start!
The first step to becoming a KS is to talk with squadron leadership. The First Sergeant will know if there are current KSs and if your squadron needs more. All KSs are appointed by the commander, so before you can receive your appointment letter, you usually have a short meeting with him/her. After that, you'll go through about 6-8 hours of training through AFRC.
Usually they try to team up several newer Key Spouses with an older KS mentor who can show them the ropes, but that didn't happen in my case. When I was first selected to be a Key Spouse, I had to learn on my feet since I was the only KS in our squadron.
Here are a few other tips I've learned along the way:
1. Start a private Facebook group
I was reluctant to join FB again after a year or so of being off it. But it has been a great way to connect with families in our squadron! We made a private FB group and, as I meet people, I am slowly adding people to it. From there we can make announcements, plan events, share meal sign-ups, etc. It's also a good way for everyone to familiarize themselves with other people in the squadron.
2. Attend all the events you can and Get out of your comfort zone by meeting at least one new person each time
Since I'm the only KS in our squadron, I don't know all of the families yet. Ideally, there are enough KSs in a squadron to each be responsible for a manageable group of families, but it just doesn't work out that way all the time. I try to attend as many events as I can and meet at least one new person each time. Many time, though, I end up meeting four or five new families. Last week I went to one of my husband's soccer games and, while chasing my son on the sidelines, met another young mom from our squadron.
To be honest, I'm always nervous meeting new people. I seem like an outgoing person, but I have to pysch myself up to introduce myself to strangers. Most of the time, however, I'm really glad that I did start the conversation. The squadron gave me business cards to hand out, so I'm trying to do better about keeping those on hand when I'm at events so people can connect me with after the fact and join our FB group.
3. Help during deployments
This is my biggest area of responsibility in our squadron. When someone deploys, I connect with their family and find out how we can help them. Usually this includes passing information on about base and squadron events so they stay connected. Additionally, I've dropped of meals every week or two for families with small children - sometimes the parent at home just needs a night off of cooking! When we've had a major snowstorm I've organized airmen to shovel driveways for the families of the deployed. And I've provided last minute babysitting when people are in a pinch.
We also offer meals or other support when someone has been in the hospital or sometimes when a new baby comes. The KS program was started to better support families in the Air Force. Since most of us live apart from our hometowns and apart from extended family, we want to be the Air Force family that is there to help when you need it.
4. Recognize that some people don't want your help. And that's okay.
Sometimes this is a family's fourth deployment and they have a system down that works for them. That's great! While there's no shame in needing help, there's also no shame in being self-sufficient. I still have to call these families and check in occasionally, but if they are doing great, that makes my job a little easier.
On the other hand, some people will very politely say that they don't need help, but you'll later find out that they were struggling. This is the *hardest* part of being a KS for me! I want to help people and I have a bunch of resources, but really need people to be honest with me! Depending on how many people we have deployed (and how many of them are self-sufficient), there are times when I could be doing a lot more for a family if I only knew that they wanted it.
5. Find out when newcomers are coming to the squadron and meet them
This is a new one for me, but I think it is going to work out well. Your squadron should assign a sponsor to each incoming member who is responsible to help them transition smoothly to the new base. If the sponsors have the KSs contact information, they can pass it along to incoming members with families. That way the families will have someone to call for those few weeks in a new town (like when you have to give an in-town emergency contact to your children's school and realize you don't know anyone in-town!).
Talk with your First Sergeant about how incoming members in-process to the squadron. Is there a chance for you to meet them on their first day? Or could the squadron email you their address so you could stop by to meet them and drop off some cookies as a housewarming gift?
Unfortunately, it is easy for people to fall through the cracks. Sometimes when an airman is in-processing he doesn't even mention that he has a family. Sometimes the communication just doesn't happen between the First Sergeant and me, especially if one of us is out of town or sick. Plus, since families are constantly coming and going in the Air Force, the roster is always changing. I've been introduced to the squadron several times at events, but there are still many people who haven't even heard of the KS program. If you're in a squadron right now and are feeling neglected, take the first step and contact your KS and ask how you can get involved!
6. Events for the spouses
Planning events in the Air Force is hard because, often, you put a lot of work into an event and end up having a small turnout. It is disappointing, to say the least, and sometimes you see personal money and a lot of time being wasted. So it's probably better to start with a few smaller events to gauge interest. You can plan a casual get-together at your house and ask everyone to bring a snack food to share. Then leave the schedule open for people to mingle. This could work out well if you start a FB group like I mentioned above so people can meet the other spouses in the group.
Depending on what your squadron's work entails, you could arrange a tour of all the work centers so they can better understand what their spouse does and how it fits into the bigger picture of the Air Force.
We had an information night for spouses recently and our leadership liked it so much that they want to do it again. We invited all the spouses to come and hear from different agencies on base. There are SO many resources available on base for Air Force families. Invite a representative from different agencies to hear about what they offer for spouses. Here are a few suggestions: Airmen and Family Readiness Center, Sexual Assault Response Center, Casualty Assistance, Education Office, Legal Office, Exceptional Family Member Program, Chaplain, OPSEC coordinator, etc. Additionally, you can give an overview of military structure and explain what it is that your squadron does.
7. Join a sister squadron
If you're having low participation for your events and tired of planning parties where only a few people show up, consider working with another squadron or even with your group (depending on how big it is). By joining with another squadron, you have at least one more KS to work with and will double your efforts (and your attendance). We've done this recently and I've been able to work alongside an awesome KS! It's been encouraging to have someone else to talk things over with and to get advice from. This could be really helpful for bigger events like an information night.
8. Have a monthly meeting with CC or other KS
Once a month, try to connect with your squadron commander, your First Sergeant, and/or the other KSs you work with. This ensures that you stay up to date on what's happening in the squadron and that leadership stays informed as well. I usually ask them: "Is there anything else I can do to better support our families?"
9. Keep a log off all your information.
Find a system that works best for you and then stick with it! I have a 3 ring binder for all of my KS things so I store people's contact information in there. I also use Google calendar to keep track of how often I contact people, what meals I bring them, etc. (Although to be honest, I usually forget to update that and end up filling in a month's worth of contact at the same time :/ )
I hope this will encourage you to look into the program and find out how you can get involved!
**One note: I'm sure that the other branches of the military have similar programs, but I'm not sure what they're called! If any spouses from other branches read this, I'd love for you to comment and tell me about your programs!